Protein phase separation and its role in tumorigenesis

Elife. 2020 Nov 3;9:e60264. doi: 10.7554/eLife.60264.


Cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled cell proliferation, but the precise pathological mechanisms underlying tumorigenesis often remain to be elucidated. In recent years, condensates formed by phase separation have emerged as a new principle governing the organization and functional regulation of cells. Increasing evidence links cancer-related mutations to aberrantly altered condensate assembly, suggesting that condensates play a key role in tumorigenesis. In this review, we summarize and discuss the latest progress on the formation, regulation, and function of condensates. Special emphasis is given to emerging evidence regarding the link between condensates and the initiation and progression of cancers.

Keywords: C. elegans; E. coli; S. cerevisiae; biomolecular condensate; cancer; cancer biology; human; membraneless organelle; mouse; phase separation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amyloid / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans
  • Carcinogenesis*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism
  • DNA Damage
  • Disease Progression
  • Escherichia coli
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Organelles / metabolism
  • Promyelocytic Leukemia Protein / chemistry
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae
  • Signal Transduction
  • Wnt Proteins / metabolism


  • Amyloid
  • Promyelocytic Leukemia Protein
  • Proteins
  • Wnt Proteins
  • PML protein, human